Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

26th September 2014

Berlin Day 3: Standing on Hitler’s Balcony
Posted by at 9.26pm | Out and About | No responses

Sunday didn’t get off to a promising start. I checked out of my hotel and emerged into heavy rain. Oh dear. First order of business: find an umbrella.

This was not as easy as it sounds. Sunday, in Germany, means that most shops are closed. I took a shortcut through a fragrant U-Bahn station and emerged onto Kurfürstendamm, where the throbbing heart of Berlin’s retail offering was shuttered and silent. However, there was a stand selling umbrellas. I was charged €7 for a bright orange umbrella, which was wrong on many levels, but it kept me dry.


Suitably sheltered from the elements, I strolled down Kurfürstendamm in search of Fasanenstraße. Like the pathetic sandal-wearing leftie that I am, I had perused the Guardian web site and found an article recommending 10 of the best breakfast and brunch spots in Berlin. One of its recommendations was Café Wintergarten on Fasanenstraße, and it was just a few minutes walk away from my hotel.

As an aside, I wish I’d found this article a couple of days earlier. My breakfast on Saturday had consisted of a Snickers bar that I’d extracted from a U-Bahn vending machine. Still, better late than never.

Berlin Fasanenplatz

I walked down Fasanenstraße, reaching a pleasant little square in Fasanenplatz. The rain had abated by this point, but there was still a dampness in the air. The carpet of fallen leaves gave the place a really Autumnal feel.

It was only then that I realised I’d walked too far, and had to retrace my steps back to the Café. Then I walked too far again. I turned around more times than Bonnie Tyler, but eventually found the café. It was in a building slightly set back from the street, and the blob on Google Maps wasn’t quite in the right place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Read the rest of this post »

7th February 2014

The Anger Games
Posted by at 1.15pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Tonight the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia, but a lot of the world’s attention is focused on a different kind of “sport” in that country. Channel 4’s Dispatches on Wednesday told the story of the gangs who hunt gay people, trapping them in order to humiliate and torture them, uploading the footage online for all to see. The documentary makers got access to some of the groups – no need for hidden cameras; they were happy to boast on film about what they did. Watch it online (UK only) but be warned: it really is horrific.

After watching, I feel grateful to live in a country that (at least during my adult life) has become more and more accepting of gay people. Anti-gay violence still happens, of course, but any British politician attacking LGBT people can expect to be condemned and mocked (q.v. David “gays cause floods” Silvester and the resulting UKIP Shipping Forecast). Not so in Russia, where homosexuality and paedophilia are conflated, and politicians eagerly use gay people, under the guise of “protecting children” to distract from other issues. The LGBT community can’t even fight back, thanks to the “no promo homo” law passed last year.

The Games will not be boycotted, but numerous countries and organisations have hinted at their displeasure. The USA took a deliberate decision to include gay athletes in their Olympic delegation, while Germany designed rainbow-coloured uniforms for their team. Great Britain responded by, er… well, David Cameron sent a Tweet to Stephen Fry.

Google has unveiled a new doodle, complete with a quote from the Olympic charter. Channel 4 (who have the rights to the Winter Paralympics) have gone one step further, producing this elaborate trailer which will air across all their channels.

The danger is that after the Games, when the world’s media is no longer watching, the anti-gay attitudes will be ratcheted up even further. Gay rights organisations around the world are working to support Russia’s LGBT community. Stonewall’s page on Russia is a good starting point for more information and advice on how to help.

20th March 2013

A cheerful post

Sorry for the delay in posting this next retro-blog. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have been rather busy.

Over the ten years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve always been a bit hesitant to talk much about big news stories. I’ve always believed that this isn’t the reason people come here, so I refrain from commenting unless I have something useful to say. That may be why my reaction to the Boxing Day Tsunami is just nine words.

Natural disasters seem to crop up quite a bit, with Hurricane Katrina and the New Zealand Quake both getting a mention.

Disaster of a different kind struck London on 7th July 2005. As a railway enthusiast and regular commuter, it struck a chord with me:

Tonight I was on the evening rush hour train out of Liverpool Central towards Hunts Cross. It’s a busy train and is always standing room only. As we barrelled through the tunnel towards Brunswick, I realised that if someone on board was to detonate a bomb, there would be carnage, and escaping from the tunnel would be difficult.

Read the rest of this post »

13th February 2013

Posted by at 10.49pm | Gay | No responses

Wrestling has been dropped from the Olympics, and one person knows exactly who is to blame:

Speaking to R-Sport, coach Vladimir Uruimagov gave his own speculation as to why the committee had demoted wrestling, suggesting it was a gay conspiracy.

He said: “If they expel wrestling now, that means that gays will soon run the whole world.”

Mr Uruimagov, who coached London 2012 champion Alan Khugaev and Athens 2004 champion Khasan Baroev, called the decision “a blow to masculine origins.”

I think he’s on to something here. If there’s one thing that the average gay man hates, it’s the sight of sweaty muscular men in skintight outfits grappling with each other.

5th January 2013


Continuing on from yesterday’s review of the year-type thing.

BBC Television CentreJuly (actually, the end of June, but I wrote the blog post on 1st July) saw me make a trip to the legendary BBC Television Centre to watch a recording of Pointless. It was a most enjoyable experience, even if the Central African Republic didn’t come up as an answer. I’m seriously tempted to go back as a contestant.

Liverpool’s Festival Gardens reopened after many years of dereliction. The government announced a whole load of railway improvement schemes, coupled with further plans to price-gouge passengers. I bemoaned the tendency for reviews to oversimplify things with a simple score.

I fretted about Global Warming (and now, after experiencing a week of unseasonably mild weather, I’m even more worried). Heat of a different kind in Liverpool city centre, as preachers continued to claim everyone was going to Hell.

Read the rest of this post »

14th September 2012

Good sport
Posted by at 8.32pm | Gay | 2 responses

Attitude Magazine October 2011The October issue of Attitude magazine plopped through my letterbox today (it’s in shops next week). They are celebrating Team GB’s success at the Olympics with a special cover featuring five British Olympians and their six-packs.

The perceived wisdom is that homosexuality and sport are mutually exclusive. This magazine feature is the latest sign that this long-held stereotype is breaking down. Elsewhere, we have rubgy star Ben Cohen running an anti-bullying charity specifically targeting LGBT youth and Liverpool FC sending a delegation to Liverpool Pride this year.

Despite these positive developments, high-profile openly gay sportspeople are few and far between. Of the 11,000 athletes at this year’s Olympics, only 22 were ‘out’ – among them, Team GB dressage gold medallist Carl Hester and Australia’s lovely Matthew Mitcham.

If the statistic that between 5% and 10% of the population is gay is correct, there must be many more athletes out there hiding their sexuality. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the percentage of gay people in sport was less than that in society as a whole. Many people’s love of sports is first nurtured in school (not me, I was a fat bastard who preferred the tranquillity of the computer room). Schools are a hostile environment for many gay teens; the changing room with its atmosphere of machismo and testosterone especially so. How many potential sports stars gave up at a young age, after deciding that the hassle and abuse wasn’t worth it?

Society is changing, and the next generation of up-and-coming athletes may find themselves in a much better position. However, reading stories like this one, about a German footballer afraid to come out because of his fears of a hostile reaction, you realise how far we still have to go.

14th August 2012

Olympic Nitpicking
Posted by at 7.21pm | In the News | 2 responses

Well, the Olympics are over. After the grand opening ceremony largely silenced the naysayers, the sport began and a nation held its breath to see if London really could pull this off.

By and large, we did quite well, in terms of both the games organisation and the number of medals won. I’m not a sports fan, but I had BBC1 on in the background constantly, and several moments stand out: Andy Murray winning a Wimbledon final at long last; the cyclists winning… well, almost everything; Tom Daley winning bronze and celebrating as if he’d won gold; and immigrant Mo Farah winning two gold medals, silencing the Daily Mail and other whingers who bemoaned “plastic Brits”.

Despite (or perhaps because of) TfL’s dire warnings to stay away, the transport problems failed to materialise, with the Tube, train and DLR lines holding up remarkably well. The army covered admirably following the G4S embarrassment. The empty seats in the venues were sad to see (especially for people like me who tried and tried to get tickets, but were ultimately left empty-handed). I hope the ticket allocation is handled more sensibly at future Games.

The BBC have been big winners, receiving deserved praise from all sides for the breadth and depth of their coverage, with every event covered live on the brilliant Olympic web site and via 24 dedicated channels on Sky and Virgin. Commentators and presenters, mindful that a high number of non-sports addicts would be tuning in, took time to explain the minutiae of the sport. They cheered on Team GB’s victories, but other countries were not overlooked, and the line between patriotism and one-sided jingoism was well-observed. Clare Balding and Ian Thorpe (despite his habit of saying “look” at the start of every sentence) deserve particular praise for their punditry.

So on Sunday, all that was left was to bring things to a close. Much has been written about the piss-poor closing ceremony, so I won’t go over it here. Suffice to say a parade of pop stars of varying levels of has-beenness was not an appropriate way to close what was an amazing two weeks.

And what of the much-discussed legacy? Well, our ruling class demonstrates a lot of signs that they are learning the wrong lessons. David Cameron is now demanding that competitive sport be made compulsory in all schools, sneering at “Indian Dance” lessons, and decrying the “all must have prizes” culture that exists mainly in the mind of Daily Telegraph columnists.

David Cameron, I suspect, has never suffered the indignity of being picked last for a team, or finishing a cross country run so late that everyone else had got changed and gone home (I was that soldier). Forcing competitive sport on me put me off any form of exercise for the best part of a decade, and my health suffered as a result. For the sake of every computer geek with poor hand-eye coordination, other forms of physical education must be provided.

Now that the 2012 party is half-finished (Paralympics still to come of course), will be there be lasting change? Certainly the games have provided a real lift to the national mood. Even the grumpiest soul must have been cheered up by the scenes on display. British athletes competing for the honour rather than the money; the thousands of volunteers giving up their time to become Gamesmakers; London, at its best, beamed onto a billion TV screens worldwide. Indeed, Monday morning seemed to bring a collective post-Olympic depression, as people realised it was over.

Will there be a permanent change to the nation’s psyche, though? It would be nice to think that, after seeing the years of training and preparation put in by the athletes, the youth of the nation will use that as a model rather than the cynical “instant fame” celebrity culture. It’s naive and simplistic to say – as some have this week – “if you work hard, you can achieve anything”. With inequality and class privilege still ingrained in British society, you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed (indeed, one-third of the UK’s medallists were privately educated). However, Team GB still provide better examples to follow than those shown in Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent and OK! Magazine.

Sadly, I’m not sure there will be such profound change. The tabloids, which for the last fortnight have carried pictures of beaming gold medallists, will surely now return to the sexual exploits of footballers. Bankers will still be greedy. Nick Clegg will still be useless. And — oh, joy — The X Factor returns to ITV1 this Saturday.

Hmm… I think I can feel the cynicism returning.

27th July 2012

Going for Gold
Posted by at 6.34pm | In the News | No responses

Tonight is the culmination of seven years of work, which began on 6th July 2005 when London was announced as winning bidder for the 2012 Olympics.

Since then, there has been a regular moans and complaints from the media and the public about the preparations:-

  • The distribution of tickets, hampered by technical problems and with millions of people missing out in the ballot (I tried so hard to get tickets, and failed).
  • The special treatment of sponsors (including such lovely companies as Dow Chemical), with draconian penalties for anyone “unofficial” who tries to make even the slightest bit of capital from the games.
  • The security clampdown, with London turned into a virtual fortress for the duration of the games, until it was undermined by the G4S fiasco, as a private company fails to deliver on its promises, generating embarrassing headlines around the world.

Given all the above, it’s hardly surprising that there have been so many grumbles about the Games. Embarrassing stumbles like the Korean “wrong flag” incident only serve to deepen the jitters.

And yet… as the Opening Ceremony approaches and the BBC’s best and brightest presenters scurry around the Olympic Park, I feel my cynicism draining away, to be replaced by a cautious optimism and – dare I say it? – excitement.

There were scoffs when the organisers announced the “green and pleasant land” theme of the opening cermoney. Now, people who attended the rehearsal event are tweeting excitedly about something that is “splendidly British and magnificently bonkers”. I cannot wait to see what Danny Boyle has cooked up.

Hopefully, over the next two weeks, the concerns and sceptism will prove to be unfounded, and we can enjoy a great sporting spectacle. Big names are lining up to compete: Chris Hoy, Tom Daley, Victoria Pendleton, Andy Murray, Rebecca Adlington. Joining them are hundreds more Team GB athletes who may not be so anonymous after this fortnight has passed.

As Jonathan Freedland points out, in an excellent piece in today’s Guardian, this event is Britain’s chance to define its position on the world stage for the 21st century.

Also, the video of Jeremy Hunt’s bell breaking is really, really funny to watch.

1st January 2012

The Day After New Year’s Eve

2012 promises more than just the collapse of global capitalism and the fulfilment of ancient Mayan prophecies as foretold in a terrible film. Here (in no particular order) is what I’m looking forward to this year.

Liverpool Central reborn

Artist's impression of new Liverpool CentralLiverpool Central was highlighted in a damning report as one of the ten worst interchange stations in the UK, news which came as a surprise to no-one who has used the station. It’s dank, dirty and overcrowded – not good for Liverpool’s busiest station and hub of the Merseyrail network.

Change is finally coming this year; the squeaky escalators, brown formica panelling and chewing gum encrusted platforms will soon be swept away in favour of something rather more modern. It remains to be seen whether the refurbishment will solve the station’s main problem – that of the Northern Line platforms being just too damn narrow – but let’s face it, it could hardly be worse than it is now. The station will be closed for up to six months this year, which will be a lot of upheaval (especially for my daily commute, as Central is by far the nearest station to work). There’s no doubt, however, that it will be worth it in the long run.

Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD

TNG is celebrating its 25th anniversary, which – as well as making me feel really old – is the perfect opportunity to launch the remastered HD version of the series, to be released on Blu-ray this year. Normally I’d be thinking “oh hurray, a chance to buy the stuff I already own on DVD all over again,” but I’m refraining from this, because the video on CBS’s web site (linked above) looks gorgeous. The big question remains: will they manage to edit the racism out of Code of Honor?

The 2012 Olympics

Yes, really. Yes, it’s a horrendously expensive event which is taking away vital funds at a time of austerity. Yes, the capital will be a nightmare to live, work and travel in for the duration. And yes, the city will be a fortress where anyone dark skinned can expect to be Tasered within an inch of their life. But the pomp and spectacle of the opening ceremony will be amazing; a once-in-a-lifetime event for this country. It’s a shame I failed to get tickets, but I now have a Freeview HD box and frankly, 1080p is just as good as being there. Hopefully it will be Ken, not Boris, who represents London as mayor at the ceremony.

I won’t be watching any of the sport, of course. Well, maybe the men’s diving. Definitely the men’s diving.

Festival Gardens opening

In 1984 the Government gave Liverpool a ton of money to create a beautiful riverside park, complete with miniature railway, Japanese gardens and futuristic dome. The International Garden Festival was a huge success, attracting visitors from all over the country and leaving a lasting legacy for the people of Merseyside. Or rather, it would have, had the Militant-controlled city council not allowed the park to close and fall into disrepair. It’s a huge embarrassment to Liverpool that this was allowed to happen, especially after the Japanese government, horrified that their gift to the city had become overgrown with weeds, threatened a diplomatic incident.

Now, after 25 years of closure (excluding the brief existence of the amusement arcade/scally magnet Pleasure Island, which closed due to being shit) the Festival Gardens are about to come to life again. The opening, originally pencilled in for Summer 2011, has been delayed by almost a year due to various issues, but is finally expected to happen in the Spring. I’ve peeked through the locked gates to the park and it looks rather special. The Liverpool Echo got a rather more close-up view.


Following my jaunt to Tallinn last year, there will hopefully be at least one overseas trip this year as well. Like Joseph Stalin in 1944, I have my sights firmly set on Berlin. I’m also planning more Station Master excursions. Altnabreac, I’m coming for you!

I promise to be more active with my blogging this year: there will be blogs, tweets and videos from me throughout 2012, I promise.

1st June 2011

Posted by at 8.25pm | In the News | 1 response

There’s just over a year to go before the world’s elite athletes descend on the nation’s capital for a high-spirited fortnight of skill, sportsmanship and urine tests. Yes, the 2012 Olympics will soon be here!

I am not a big sports fan, but when tickets went on sale I was swept up in the patriotic fervour. What an amazing chance to be part of something special, an event that is held in this country once in a lifetime. I jumped on to the official London 2012 web site and applied for tickets.

In fact I went a bit crazy applying for tickets, and ended up requesting £630 worth. I was worried that this might be a bit much to put on my Visa card, but you have to speculate to accumulate, don’t you?

As it turned out my debt-related fears were groundless. No, I haven’t suddenly won the lottery or received an inheritance from a distant relative who snuffed it. It’s more simple than that: the deadline for payments to be taken from my account came and went yesterday and the “pending transactions” section of my credit card online statement remains stubbornly at zero. I think it’s time to face facts: I failed to get a single ticket allocated to me in the ballot.

If it’s any consolation (and it isn’t), I’m not alone — 250,000 fellow punters have been similarly disappointed.

It is a little bit unfair that some people could afford to splash out and risk thousands of pounds, while lots more (like me) had to be more conservative with our application, reducing our chances of winning.

Anyone who has sat clicking the Refresh button on a ticket web site while waiting for in-demand concert tickets to go on sale will understand why the Games organisers have done it this way. However, I still can’t help but feel a bit miffed. In fact, I’m going to write a letter of complaint.

Dear Lord Coe,

— No, actually that’s too formal, let’s try again…

Dear Sebby,

I wish to express my disappointment that I have not been allocated any tickets for the London 2012 Olympics. I now feel totally disenfranchised from what is supposed to be a special event that will bind the country together.

I have a long-standing interest in Men’s Diving, and it is absolutely not because I want to see Matthew Mitcham wet and Speedo-clad, honest.

Yours truly,
Robert x